PH, Saudi Arabia agree on heightened partnership on labor reforms, migrant rights

June 21, 2021

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia renewed the shared commitment Sunday to further heighten cooperation aimed at ensuring the well-being of Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom underscoring their significance in Saudi Arabia’s development.

Presidential Assistant on Foreign Affairs Robert E. A. Borje and Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD) Minister Ahmad Sulaiman Al Rajhi articulated the position of the Philippines and Saudi Arabia to work more closely together in bilateral and multilateral fora to highlight significant advancements in labor reform and fair migration.

The Special Envoy noted that President Duterte welcomed Saudi Arabia’s launching of the Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), saying it is a significant step towards addressing issues with the existing sponsorship system in the Mideast country.

He expressed confidence that the LRI will raise the productivity and competitiveness of the labor market in Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, PAFA Borje emphasized the Philippines’ commitment to work with Saudi Arabia in implementing its labor reform initiative, especially those that advance the rights and welfare of migrant workers, recognizing the benefits for key labor sectors in the Kingdom, including labor mobility.

The Filipino official said that Saudi Arabia’s LRI is commendable, and President Duterte hopes for Filipino household workers’ inclusion in the reform initiative.

Special Envoy Borje also sought the MHRSD minister’s support for other Philippine initiatives to better serve the needs of OFWs in the Arab country.

These include the ongoing repatriation program for distressed Filipinos in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as efforts to further strengthen the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and Philippine Consulate-General in Jeddah and make consular services more accessible to Filipinos in the Kingdom.

PAFA Borje also underscored the need to address fundamental issues to all migrant workers in the Kingdom.

These include harnessing technology to improve access to labor sector services, protection of wages, and automation of recruitment processes.

Both sides are looking forward to the Joint Commission Meeting and also showed eagerness to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on labor soon, based on the LRI reforms that the Saudi government has done.

Both officials hope to see the convening of a technical working group on the details of the MOU on labor.

The Special Envoy described Saudi Arabia’s reforms on migrants’ rights as bold and visionary, and deserving of support from partners.

Borje also expressed optimism that Philippine-Saudi Arabia relations would continue to grow beyond labor cooperation. Recognizing that labor is the most human connection between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, he said there are areas which could benefit from growth, and these include trade and investment.

The Philippines, he said, is willing to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on a multi-dimensional partnership, which President Duterte envisions.

The meeting with the MHRSD Minister is part of the program for Philippine delegation’s official visit to Saudi Arabia, anchored on President’s commitment to protect the rights and promote the welfare of OFWs.

During a phone conversation between President Duterte and His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud early this year, the Crown Prince assured the Filipino leader that the Kingdom will take care of the Filipinos it hosts.

Kalinga at Malasakit for OFWs remains a key priority of the Duterte administration.

Having been appointed by the President as Special Envoy to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia in 2019, this is Borje’s second designation as Special Envoy to Saudi Arabia.

Also present during the meeting were Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sara Lou Arriola, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos, and Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto. PND